LACONIA — A damage suit brought by a Sanbornton man who was severely bitten by a dog that had just come from an animal shelter will turn on who is judged to be the actual owner of the animal.
Robert Charter is suing the Live and Let Live Farm Inc. after a German shepherd that had come from the facility 29 hours before severely bit his hands.
Charter’s wife, Mary, obtained the dog from the Chichester shelter in November 2015 under a foster placement arrangement.
The day after the 60-pound, 1½-year-old dog came to live with the Charters, the animal ran out of their yard and down the road. Robert Charter went after the dog, called it to come back, and then grabbed the dog by the collar and started to lead it back to the house. As a car passed by, the dog spun around and began biting Charter, first on his left hand and then on his right hand, according to the civil complaint.
Charter required emergency surgery at Concord Hospital and has undergone followup surgeries since, leaving him partially disabled, according to the suit filed in Belknap Superior Court.
The suit alleges the shelter showed negligence when it failed to tell Charter about the “dog’s aggressive and/or vicious propensity.”
According to the suit, the dog came to Live and Let Live in the fall of 2015 from a shelter in South Carolina to which the animal had been returned because “it was vicious.” Live and Let Live assured Charter the dog had no behavioral problems, the suit says.
New Hampshire's "strict liability" dog bite law holds dog owners responsible for injuries their dogs inflict in a wide range of situations.
Charter’s suit alleges that, since the dog was, in effect, in a probationary status in the Charter home, the dog still belonged to Live and Let Live and not to Mary Charter.
Under the agreement with the shelter, Charter became a foster caregiver for the dog for a minimum of 30 days. The agreement barred her from selling the dog or otherwise relinquishing custody of the animal to anyone else. After the initial 30-day period, Charter would have had the option of adopting the dog or renewing the fostering arrangement, according to the suit.
Live and Let Live counters that, at the time Robert Charter was bitten, he was managing the dog “much like an owner,” and so is at least partially responsible for his own injuries. Court documents state the shelter is prepared to argue that Charter is “comparatively at fault.”l
After a hearing on Monday, Superior Court Judge James D. O’Neill III took under advisement a plaintiff’s motion that Robert Charter not be characterized as either the dog’s keeper or the one who had possession of the animal.
Charter filed the suit against Live and Let Live in March 2017. Scheduled jury selections in the case both last year and this year were cancelled. An effort to resolve the case by mediation last year failed. The case is now scheduled to go to trial next April, according to the case file.